Section 16 roads built with hunting permit fees

No laws broken, truck traffic restricted


   Roads recently constructed in 16th Section tracts, and chains blocking those roads, were discussed by the Avoyelles School Board at its Executive Committee meeting Nov. 29 and its regular meeting Dec. 6. It will now be sent to a special committee to clarify a policy on whether to invoke an ATV-only restriction on 16th Section roads.
  Although there has been some Facebook activity expressing concerns and various conspiracy theories, board members were assured at the Executive Committee meeting that everything done on the Section 16 properties is legal and above board.
   Maintenance Supervisor Steve Marcotte explained that the dirt roads in question in the Garfish and Saline tracts cost about $16,000 and were paid for with proceeds from the sale of hunting permits. He said the next project paid out of permit funds will be a parking area in the Mussel Lake tract.
   Board President Darrell Wiley pointed out that the board had passed a resolution designating the permit fees to be used to upgrade roads and build parking areas in the 16th Sections. 
   Marcotte said he undertook the road projects on the strength of that approval and did not bring the individual projects to the board for specific approval. However, he said he can do that in the future if the board so wishes.
Improve public access
   The purpose is to improve the areas for public use and provide greater access to the property. That, in turn, will allow the board to create more camp sites that can be leased, thus increasing the revenue to be used for capital improvements at the schools. There are currently seven camps at Saline, eight at Garfish and four at Mussel Lake.
   Marcotte said much of the work was done in-house by APSB employees. He said a trackhoe, truck and grader were rented and operators were hired for the projects.
   “We created a road bed that wasn’t there before,” Marcotte said. “We put down some limestone. Eventually, doing a little each year, we will have a limestone road that will hold up to truck traffic.”
   Marcotte said chains or gates have been put up on the roads to prevent trucks from traveling on them when they are wet. Camp lessees have keys that enable them to access their camps.
   Marcotte said the area is supposed to be accessible by ATV only at this time because of the type of road there.
   It was pointed out that camp owners often have to bring in supplies by truck. Many also bring their ATV in the truck to use while they are at the camp.
Marcotte said many camp owners park their truck at the camp and use the ATV to go to their hunting sites.
   However, there are others who use the wooded areas for mud racing and tear up the roads -- as well as disturbing campers and the wildlife.
   The intent of the chains and gates is not to prohibit the public from using the public lands, but to protect the roads.
   Board members were told that the gates were not put up to create “private roads” for certain camp owners.
  One of those camp owners, Marksville Mayor John Lemoine said the idea of having gates on the road “did not come from the camp owners, but from Steve (Marcotte), to keep the roads from being torn up.
   District Attorney Charles Riddle said he has received several calls from people expressing concerns about the access roads. 
  Most, he noted, don’t disagree with the idea of restricting truck traffic on the 16th Section roads.  He said he personally is glad there are locked gates/chains on roads and believes the board is justified in limiting access to ATVs.
  “People tell me they question why anyone can use a truck.,” Riddle said. “People say   money from the sale of permits is used to improve the roads, but the only ones not able to use the road is the permit holder.”
Permit sales  Decline
    Marcotte said the School Board sold 99 hunting permits at $200 each last year. This year, the board has sold only 49. 
The reason for the decline is placed on a widespread public belief that the game wardens will not enforce the parish ordinance requiring hunters purchase a permit to hunt on 16th Section land.
   Riddle said LDWF agents have said they will not give tickets as a primary offense. However, if a non-permitted hunter is found in violation of other game laws, the agent will also charge him with failing to possess a valid 16th Section hunting permit.
  Lemoine said the public should realize the $200 hunting permit “is the best deal in the parish.” Riddle also told board members that, contrary to posted comments, there were no bid law violations in connection with building the roads.
   “This type of work does not require bids,” Riddle said.
   At the Dec. 6 meeting,  board member Chris LaCour said the board has two options on traffic restrictions. He said the board can  allow camp owners to drive a vehicle to their camp site and restrict access to ATVs for hunting permit holders. The second option is to allow everyone to drive a vehicle on the roads unless bad weather forces the road to be closed to to such vehicles.
   “I want to provide a solution to this issue so we can move on to educational issues,” LaCour said.
  Assistant District Attorney Anthony Salario said the current guidelines concerning the use of 16th section property was “not very well-written.” He said the policy needs to be rewritten to be clearer.
  Wiley said the policy was approved by the District Attorney’s Office. Salario noted there is nothing wrong with the  policy itself, but it could be better written.
   “We know it's public land, but it can be regulated,” Wiley said. “State land is public, but it is still regulated by Wildlife and Fisheries.”
   The board unanimously referred the issue to a special committee to clarify the policy.